'' / "^
__ - ^;??®«'''^|^*^^^gsi
^^^fe^2^^^ '-^ ^ "^ '^^^
Digitized by the Internet Archive
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
THE AUTOCRAT AND HIS
SAMUEL McCHORD CROTHERS
WITH SELECTED POEMS
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1909, BY SAMUEL MCCHORD CROTHERS
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES:
THE AUTOCRAT AND HIS FELLOW-
OLD IRONSIDES (1830) ' 41
THE CAMBRIDGE CHURCHYARD (1836) 42
THE LAST LEAF (1831) 47
THE HEIGHT OF THE RIDICULOUS (1830) .... 49
THE deacon's masterpiece (1858) 50
BILL AND JOE (1868) 55
WHAT WE ALL THINK (1858) 57
ROBINSON OF LEYDEN (1859) 59
A SUN-DAY HYMN (1859) 61
THE CROOKED FOOTPATH (1859) 62
THE CHAMBERED NAUTILUS (1858) 64
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
THE AUTOCRAT AND HIS
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
Dr. Holmes said of Emerson : " He delineates
himself so perfectly in his various writings that
the careful reader sees his nature just as it was
in all its essentials, and has little more to learn
than those human accidents which individual-
ize him in time and space."
This was even more true of Dr. Holmes
than of his friend. His life was singularly de-
void of struggle. It was all of a piece. There
were no dramatic surprises. It is in his writ-
ings that we see the man.
Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Cam-
bridge, Massachusetts, on August 29, 1809.
His father. Rev. Abiel Holmes, minister of the
First Church in Cambridge, was a man of
distinction in his profession. A lover of the old
ways, he took the conservative side in the
controversy which divided his parish. In the
old gambrel-roofed house the minister's son
heard much argument about theology. Though
he drifted away from the doctrines of his
[ 3 ]
father, he never lost interest in the discussions
of matters of faith. It was a characteristic re-
mark of the Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table
that " we are all theological students and more
of us are qualified as doctors of divinity than
have received degrees at any of the universities."
This was certainly true of those who breathed
the atmosphere of Cambridge during the early
years of the Unitarian controversy.
It was natural that the orthodox minister's
son should go to Phillips Academy, Andover,
and then to Harvard College, from which he
graduated in 1829. There was one year of
flirtation with the pages of Chitty and Black-
stone in the Law School at Cambridge, but
nothing serious came of it. Long afterwards
Dr. Holmes wrote: "In that fatal year I had
my first attack of authors' lead-poisoning, and
I have never got quite rid of it from that day to
this. But for that I might have applied myself
more diligently to my legal studies, and carried
a green bag in place of a stethoscope and a ther-
mometer up to the present day." Medicine was
preferred as being a less jealous mistress than
the law. Then followed three years of study
[ 4 ]
in France. It was characteristic that on land-
ing at Calais he sought out the hotel immor-
talized by Sterne in the " Sentimental Journey."
Holmes and Sterne had much in common,
and each felt an intellectual kinship with the
Returning to Boston, he began the practice
of medicine, which by a natural transition
passed into the work of medical instructor. In
1847 he received the appointment of Park-
man Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in
the Medical School of Harvard University.
This position he held for thirty-five years. It
is difficult for the public to hold two thoughts
of any man at the same time. The obvious
fact that Dr. Holmes was a wit has obscured
the other fact that in his own profession he
attained distinction as a painstaking and keen-
eyed man of science. There is ample testimony
to this from those competent to give an opin-
ion, and even the general reader who will look
into the " Medical Essays " may be convinced.
A paper read before the Boston Society for
Medical Improvement in 1843, on "The Con-
tagiousness of Puerperal Fever," awakened
[ 5 ]
physicians to dangers to which they had been
oblivious and led to a revolution in their
But though as a professor Dr. Holmes at-
tained a high degree of success, it was as a
man of letters that he gained fame. There were,
however, no eccentricities of genius to record,
nor any paragraphs to find a place in a book
on the "Calamities of Authors." Still less did
he furnish any materials for a collection of
"The Quarrels of Authors."
He began to write in college and continued
till in extreme old age his pen dropped from
his hand, but he never in any strict sense wrote
for the public. His last sentence in "Our
Hundred Days in Europe" is suggestive. "If
. . . this account of our summer experiences
is a source of pleasure to many friends, and of
pain to no one, as I trust will prove to be the
fact, I hope I need never regret giving to the
public the pages which are meant more es-
pecially for readers who have a personal inter-
est in the writer."
The fact was that he had always been writ-
ing for this class of readers. A circle of per-
[ 6 ]
sonal friends had surrounded him, and the
circle had grown larger with the years.
He was not a poet in the usual sense of the
word. "The Chambered Nautilus" is per-
haps the only bit of his verse which has the
artistic completeness which enables it to stand
alone. He had a poetical gift and he used it
for the amusement and comfort of his friends,
without much thought of the verdict of pos-
terity. His poems were meant to be read by
himself to his friends.
In 1836, only a year after his return from
Europe, he published his first volume of poetry.
"Old Ironsides," "The Last Leaf," "The
Height of the Ridiculous" gave a taste of
his quality. It became known that there was
a young doctor living in Boston who had a
whimsical fancy and who never dared to write
as funny as he could. Henceforth on every
festive occasion the attempt was made to draw
him out. For almost fifty years he was the
Poet Laureate of Boston, ready to produce
verses for every important occasion. There is
*' A Modest Request " complied with after the
Dinner at President Everett's Inauguration;
[ 7 ]
there is a Rhymed Lesson, delivered before the
Boston Mercantile Library Association; there
is a Medical Poem taken as an after-dinner
prescription by the Medical Society. There
are poems written for fairs, poems on the dedi-
cation of cemeteries, poems on the birthdays
of distinguished citizens, poems on their going
to Europe, poems of welcome to illustrious
visitors, and always the poems for the re-
unions of the Class of '29.
Had Dr. Holmes died before reaching the
age of forty-seven, he would have been remem-
bered as a brilliant member of a remarkable
group of literary men. Yet still he would have
been reckoned among " the inheritors of unful-
filled renown." He had written many clever
verses, but he had not yet found the medium
for the full expression of himself.
He had written many short poems, he after-
wards wrote several novels ; but his literary re-
putation rests on " The Autocrat of the Break-
fast-Table" (including under that title the
three volumes of The Breakfast-Table Series) .
The reader always thinks of Dr. Holmes as
" The Autocrat." The title of the work is a jus-
[ 8 ]
tification for the reader's assumption that the
author and his hero are one: "The Autocrat
of the Breakfast-Table : Every Man his Own
Bos well." By this title criticism is disarmed
and we are told just what to expect. If we
wish to know what manner of man Dr. Oliver
Wendell Holmes was, we have only to look
To say that he was his own Boswell is but
to say that he was by instinct not an histo-
rian or a novelist or a systematic philosopher,
but an essayist. Now the great difficulty with
the discursive essay lies in the fact that it en-
counters the social prejudice against the use
of the first person singular. It is not considered
good form for a man to talk much about him-
self. The essayist is not really more egotistic
than the most reticent of his fellow-citizens,
but the first person singular is his stock-in-
trade. If he is not allowed to say "I," his style
stiffens into formalism. He is interested in the
human mind, and likes to chronicle its queer
goings on. He is curious about its inner work-
ing. Now it happens that the only mind of
which he is able to get an inside view is his
[ 9 ]
own, and so he makes the most of it. He fol-
lows his mind about, taking notes of all its
haps and mishaps. He is aware that it may
not be the best intellect in the world, but it is
all he has, and he cannot help becoming at-
tached to it. A man's mind grows on acquaint-
ance. For a person to be his own Boswell
implies that he is his own Dr. Johnson. Dr.
Johnson must have enough opinions, obsti-
nacies, and insights to make the Boswellizing
wofth while. The natural history of a mental
vacuum cannot be made interesting to the
For commercial purposes it is sometimes
necessary to create an artificial person, called
the corporation, to carry on business. In like
manner, the essayist finds it convenient to
create an artificial person to carry on the busi-
ness of self-revelation. As the corporation is
relieved of the necessity of having a soul, so
the artificial literary character is without self-
consciousness. He can say "I" as often as he
pleases, without giving offense. If a narrow-
minded person accuses the author of being
egotistic, he can readily prove an alibi. If
[ 10 ]
Elia should prove garrulous in proclaiming his
whims, Mr. Charles Lamb could not be blamed.
He was attending faithfully to his duties in the
East India House.
Dr. Holmes was fortunate, not only in creat-
ing a character through which to put forth his
private opinions, but also in providing that
character with the proper environment. He was
thus enabled not only to reveal himself, but also
to reveal the society of which he formed a part.
Washington Irving's Geoffrey Crayon was
only the English Mr. Spectator transplanted
to America. The elderly man about town was
more fitted for London than for the New York
of that period. But Dr. Holmes hit upon a
character and a situation distinctly American.
Let Philosophy come down from the heights,
and take up her abode in a Boston boarding-
house. Let there be a nervous landlady anxious
to please, and an opinionated old gentleman
ready to be displeased, and a poet, and a phi-
losopher, and a timid school-mistress, and a
divinity-student who wants to know, and an
angular female in black bombazine, and a
young fellow named John who cares for none
[ 11 ]
of these things. Then let these free-born
American citizens be talked to by one of their
fellow-boarders who has usurped the author-
ity of speech.
The philosophical historian of the future
may picture the New England of the middle
of the nineteenth century under the symbolism
of the Autocrat and his Boarding-House. You
cannot understand one without the other. In
Europe diflferent streams of culture flow side
by side without mingling. One man belongs to
the world of art, another to the world of busi-
ness, another to the world of politics. Each
sphere has its well-recognized conventions.
Matthew Arnold voices the inherited ideal.
It is that of one who, in the society which he
has chosen, is not compelled to note "all the
fever of some differing soul." In America, to
note the fever of some differing soul is part of
the fun. We like to use the clinical thermome-
ter and take one another's temperature.
We do not think of ourselves as in an intel-
lectual realm where every man's house is his
castle. We are all boarders together. There
are no gradations of rank, nobody sits below
[ 12 ]
the salt. We listen to the Autocrat so long as
we think he talks sense ; and when he gets be-
yond our depth we push back our chairs some-
what noisily, and go about our business. The
young fellow named John is one of the most
important persons at the table. The Autocrat
would think it his greatest triumph if he could
make the slightest impression on that imper-
The first sentence of the book strikes the
keynote. " I was just going to say, when I was
interrupted." Here we have the American
philosopher at his best. He is inured to inter-
ruptions. He is graciously permitted to dis-
course to his fellow-citizens on the Good, the
True, and the Beautiful, but he must be
mighty quick about it. He must know how
to get in his words edgewise.
"Will you allow me to pursue this subject
a little further .?" asks the Autocrat. Then he
adds meekly, "They did n't allow me." When
he attempts to present a subject in systematic
form: "Oh, oh, oh!" cried the young fellow
whom they call John, "that is from one of
your lectures ! "
[ 13 ]
For all his autocratic airs, there is no dan-
ger that he will be allowed to think of himself
more highly than he ought to think. The
boarders will take care to prevent such a ca-
lamity. All his sentimentalities and sublimi-
ties are at once subjected to the nipping air
of the boarding-house.
When the Professor makes a profound state-
ment, the ''economically organized female in
black bombazine" remarks acidly, "I don't
think people who talk over their victuals are
likely to say anything great."
We must remember that the lady in black
bombazine was a very important person in her
day. And so was another boarder, known as
the "Model of all the Virtues." We are made
intimately acquainted with this excellent lady,
though we are not told her name. She was
the " natural product of a chilly climate and
high culture." " There was no handle of weak-
ness to take hold of her by ; she was as unseiz-
able, except in her totality, as a billiard-ball ;
and on the broad, green, terrestrial table,
where she had been knocked about, like all
of us, by the cue of Fortune, she glanced from
[ 14 1
every human contact, and * caromed' from
one relation to another, and rebounded from
the stuffed cushion of temptation, with . . .
exact and perfect angular movements."
To get the full humor of the talk, one must
always hear the audacities of the Autocrat
answered by the rustle of the bombazine and
the grieved resignation of the Model of all
the Virtues. It was all so different from what
they had been accustomed to. In the first
part of the nineteenth century a great wave of
didactic literature swept over the English and
American reading public. A large number
of conscientious ladies and gentlemen simulta-
neously discovered that they could write im-
proving books, and at once proceeded to do
so. Their aim was to make the path of duty
so absolutely plain that the wayfaring man,
though a fool, could not err therein ; and they
succeeded. The wayfaring man who was more
generously endowed had a hard time of it by
reason of the advice that was thrust upon
himc The cult of the Obvious was at its height
in the days when Tupper's "Proverbial Phi-
losophy" was popularly supposed to be poetry,
[ 15 ]
and Mr. G. P. R. James furnished the excite-
ment of Romance without any of its imagi-
native perils. The idea was that everything
had to be explained.
When most of his characters are in the direst
extremities in the Bastille, Mr. James begins
a new chapter thus: ''Having now left the
woodman as unhappy as we could wish, and
De Blenau very little better ofiF than he was
before, we must proceed with Pauline, and
see what we can do with her in the same way.
It has already been said in the hurry of her
flight she struck her foot against a stone and
fell. This is an unpleasant accident at all
times, and more especially when one is running
While the romancer was so careful that
the reader should understand what happened
and why, the moralist was even more appre-
hensive in regard to his charges. In any second-
hand store you find the shelves still cluttered
up with didactic little books published any-
where from 1800 to 1860, called ''Guides" or
"Aids" to one thing or another. They were
intended to make everything perfectly intel-
[ 16 ]
ligible to the intellectually dependent classes.
The ''Laborer's Guide," the *' Young Lady's
Aid," the "Parents' Assistant," the "Af-
flicted Man's Companion," were highly es-
teemed by persons who liked to have a book to
tell them to go in when it rained. When I came
across the "Saloon-Keeper's Companion" I
felt sure that it belonged to this period, and so
it did. Even the poor saloon-keeper was not
allowed to take anything for granted.
To persons brought up on the Bombazine
school of literature. Dr. Holmes's style was
very perplexing. Instead of presenting an as-
sortment of ready-made thoughts, each placed
decently on the counter with the mark-down
price in plain figures, he allowed the reader to
look into his mind and see how he* did his
thinking. He described to the bewildered
boarding-house the exciting mental processes.
"Every event that a man would master must
be mounted on the run, and no man ever
caught the reins of a thought except as it gal-
loped by him. So ... we may consider the
mind as it moves among thoughts or events,
like a circus-rider whirling round with a great
[ 17 ]
troop of horses. He can mount a fact or an
idea, and guide it more or less completely, but
he cannot stop it. . . . He can stride two or
three thoughts at once, but not break their
steady walk, trot, or gallop. He can only take
his foot from the saddle of one thought and
put it on that of another. What is the saddle
of a thought ? Why, a word, of course."
This sounds like what in these days we call
the New Psychology. But to many of the
boarders the act of thinking in public seemed
indecorous. They were shocked at the idea
of the mind making an object of itself, skip-
ping about from one subject to another, like a
circus-rider. In the most esteemed literature
of the day, this never happened. A thought was
never allowed to go abroad unless chaperoned
by an elderly and perfectly reliable Moral.
When the Autocrat presented a new thought
to the Breakfast-Table, " 'I don't believe one
word of what you are saying,' spoke up the
angular female in black bombazine."
Dr. Holmes has been called provincial.
This is high praise for one who aspires to be
[ 18 ]
his own Boswell. Said Dr. Johnson, '* He who
is tired of London is tired of life." — "Why
Sir, Fleet Street has a very animated appear-
ance, but I think the full tide of human exist-
ence is at Charing Cross."
An interesting personality is always inter-
ested in the place where he happens to be. Dr.
Holmes found his Fleet Street and Charing
Cross within easy walking distance. All the
specimens of human nature which he needed
for his study could be found on Boston Com-
mon. Boston was not so big as London, nor
so old, but it was sufficient for his active mind.
In that most delightful of nature books,
Gilbert White's "Natural History of Selborne,"
the good rector says of the range of hills that
ran through the parish which was his world,
** Though I have travelled the Sussex Downs
upwards of thirty years, yet I still investigate
that chain of majestic mountains with fresh
admiration year by year, and think I see new
beauties every time I traverse it."
The globe-trotter smiles superciliously when
he is told that these majestic mountains rise
to the height of five hundred feet. But the
[ 19 ]
globe-trotter may well ask himself whether he
has really seen as much of the world as Gil-
bert White saw in his thirty years' travels
through the length and breadth of the Parish
When the "jaunty-looking person, who had
come in with the young fellow they call John"
made his famous remark about the Bostonian
belief that "Boston State- House is the hub of
the solar system," the Autocrat accepted it
good-naturedly. "Sir, — said I, — I am grati-
fied with your remark. It expresses with pleas-
ing vivacity that which I have sometimes heard
uttered with malignant dulness. The satire
of the remark is essentially true of Boston, —
and of all other considerable, — and incon-
siderable, — places with which I have had the
privilege of being acquainted. ... I have
been about, lecturing, you know, and have
found the following propositions true of all of
**1. The axis of the earth sticks out visibly
through the centre of each and every town or
2. If more than fifty years have passed
[ 20 ]
since its foundation, it is affectionately styled
by the inhabitants the 'good old town of —
(whatever its name may happen to be).
"3. Every collection of its inhabitants that
comes together to listen to a stranger is inva-
riably declared to be a 'remarkably intelli-
**4. The climate of the place is particularly
favorable to longevity.
"5. It contains several persons of vast talent
little known to the world. . . .
** Boston is just like other places of its size; —
only, perhaps, considering its excellent fish-
market, paid fire-department, superior monthly
publications, and correct habit of spelling the
English language, it has some right to look
down on the mob of cities."
That was in 1857. Since then the fish-mar-
kets and fire-departments and monthly maga-
zines of other cities have improved, and no-
body pretends any longer to know what is the
correct way of spelling the English language.
All the oflPensive Bostonian claims to superior-
ity have passed away.
In ''The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table"
[ 21 ]
we have many glimpses of the intelligent and
right-minded, but somewhat self-conscious
Boston of the Transcendental period. Dr.
Holmes's wit was a safety match which struck
fire on the prepared surface of the box in which
it came. Boston was the box.
The peculiarities which he found most
amusing were those which he himself shared.
There is indeed an old prudential maxim to the
effect that people who live in glass houses
should not throw stones. This ill-natured say-
ing takes for granted that we should all enjoy
smashing our neighbors' glass if we could in-
sure the safety of our own. Dr. Holmes was
of a different disposition. His satire, like his
charity, began at home. He was quite proud
of the glass house in which he lived, and at the
same time he enjoyed throwing stones. If he
broke a window now and then it was a satis-
faction to think that it was his own. No one
valued more highly the intellectual character-
istics of Boston, but he also saw the amusing
side of the local virtues. You may have
watched the prestidigitator plunge his hand
into a bowl of burning ether, and hold it aloft
[ 22 ]
like a blazing torch. There was a film of
moisture sufficient to protect the hand from
the thin flame. So Dr. Holmes's satire played
around the New England Conscience and did
not the least harm to it.
A Scotch Presbyterian of the seventeenth cen-
tury, named Baillie, wrote a description of the
English Puritans at the time when many were
crossing to New England. "They are a people
inclinable to singularities, their humor is to
differ from all the world, and shortly from
themselves." It was this hereditary humor,
somewhat stimulated by the keen winds from
off Massachusetts Bay, that furnished Dr.
Holmes with his best material.
**I value a man," says the Autocrat, "mainly
for his primary relations with truth, as I under-
Such an assertion of independent judgment
could not fail to awaken other independent
boarders to opposition.
"The old gentleman who sits opposite got
his hand up, as a pointer lifts his forefoot, at
the expression, * his relations with truth, as I un-
derstand truth,' and when I had done, sniffed
[ 23 ]
audibly, and said I talked like a transcen-
dentalist. For his part, common sense was
good enough for him.
"Precisely so, my dear sir, I replied; com-
mon sense, as you understand it,"
It was a discussion which had been carried
on without interruption since the days when
old Mr. Blackstone settled on the peninsula
at the mouth of the Charles in order to get
into primary relations with truth as he under-
stood truth, and had his peace disturbed by
the influx of people from Salem who came
with the intention of getting into primary re-
lations with truth as they understood it.
In Sunday preachments, in Thursday lec-
tures, in councils and town meetings, in lec-
ture-halls and drawing-rooms, the quest has
been kept up. Mrs. Anne Hutchinson here
got into primary relations with truth as she
understood truth, and so did Margaret Fuller,
and so has Mrs. Eddy.
Never has any one who had done this lacked
followers in the good old town, and never has
such an one lacked candid critics. So long as
there is a keen delight in the give-and-take,
[ U ]
the thrust and counter-thrust of opinion, that
"state of mind" that is Boston will be recog-
It was a state of mind that was particularly
acute in those days when Lowell wrote of
Theodore Parker and his co-religionists, —
I know they all went
For a general union of total dissent:
He went a step farther; without cough or hem.
He frankly avowed he believed not in them;
And, before he could be jumbled up or prevented.
From their orthodox kind of dissent he dissented.
Laurence Sterne, in "Tristram Shandy,"
gives the secret of his own method of writing.
"In course," said Yorick, "in a tone two parts
jest and one part earnest." Dr. Holmes used
these ingredients, but the proportions were
reversed. Usually there are two parts earnest
and one part jest. The earnest was always the
earnest of the man of science, and of the keen
physician. We are reminded of the kind of
writing which Lord Bacon wished to see ; "so-
ber satire; or the insides of things." Much
of his wit is of the nature of a quick diagnosis.
We are moral hypochondriacs, going about
[ 25 ]
with long faces imagining that we are suffering
from a complication of formidable diseases.
The little doctor looks us over and tells us
what is the matter with us. The incongruity
between what we thought was the matter and
what is the matter, makes us smile. It is as if
a man thought he had committed the unpar-
donable sin, and was told that the real sin that
has produced his bad feelings was committed
by his cook.
Here is a bit of social diagnosis: "There
are persons who no sooner come within sight
of you than they begin to smile, with an un-
certain movement of the mouth, which conveys
the idea that they are thinking about them-
selves, and thinking, too, that you are thinking
they are thinking about themselves."
We are made to see that the troublesome
complaint which we usually speak of as self-
consciousness is not so simple as we had
thought. It is a complication of disorders.
It is not merely a consciousness of one's self.
It is the consciousness of other people's con-
sciousness that makes the trouble. All of which
is amusing because it is true.
[ 26 ]
"There is no power I envy so much, — said
the divinity-student, — as that of seeing analo-
gies and making comparisons. I don't under-
stand how it is that some minds are continually
coupling thoughts or objects that seem not in
the least related to each other, until all at once
they are put in a certain light and you wonder
that you did not always see that they were as
like as a pair of twins. It appears to me a
sort of miraculous gift."
Now, to the Autocrat it was not a miracu-
lous gift at all. To couple ideas into a train
of thought was as easy for him as it is for a
railroad man to couple cars. But the connec-
tions which he saw were not like the analo-
gies of the homilist, they were like the connec-
tion which the physician recognizes between
the symptom and the disease : this thing means
That there is any likeness between an awk-
ward visitor and a ship is not evident till it
is pointed out; after that it seems inevitable.
"Don't you know how hard it is for some
people to get out of a room after their visit is
really over ? They want to be off, and you
[ 27 ]
want to have them off, but they don't know
how to manage it. One would think they had
been built in your parlor or study, and were
waiting to be launched."
Then follows the suggestion as to the best
way of launching them. "I have contrived a
sort of ceremonial inclined plane for such
visitors, which being lubricated with certain
smooth phrases, I back them down, metaphori-
cally speaking, stern-foremost, into their ' na-
tive element,' the great ocean of out-doors."
Whoever has felt himself thus being launched
recognizes the accuracy of the figure of speech.
Even the most confirmed dogmatist must
get a glimpse of the meaning of **the relativity
of knowledge," and of the difference between
opinion and truth, when the Professor at the
Breakfast-Table explains it to him. '*Do you
know that every man has a religious belief pe-
culiar to himself ? Smith is always a Smithite.
He takes in exactly Smith's-worth of know-
ledge, Smith's-worth of truth, of beauty, of
divinity. And Brown has from time immemo-
rial been trying to burn him, to excommunicate
him, to anonymous-article him, because he did
[ 28 ]
not take in Brown's-worth of knowledge, truth,
beauty, divinity. He cannot do it, any more
than a pint-pot can hold a quart, or a quart-
pot be filled by a pint. Iron is essentially the
same everywhere and always ; but the sulphate
of iron is never the same as the carbonate of
iron. Truth is invariable, but the Smithate of
truth must always differ from the Brownate
When one has begun to state his political
or theological opinions in terms of chemistry,
and is able to grasp the idea of a Smithate of
truth, he is on good terms with Dr. Holmes.
He may go on to apply the same methods to
literary criticism. '*I suppose that a man's
mind does in time form a neutral salt with the
elements of the universe for which it has
special elective aflSnities. In fact, I look upon
a library as a kind of mental chemist's shop,
filled with the crystals of all forms and hues
which have come from the union of individual
thought with local circumstances or universal
principles. When a man has worked out his
special affinities in this way, there is an end of
his genius as a real solvent. No more effer-
[ 29 ]
vescence and hissing tumult as he pours his
sharp thought on the world's biting alkaline
The Autocrat was asked by one of the
boarders whether he did n't ''read up" for his
talks at the breakfast-table. "No, that is the
last thing I would do. . . . Talk about those
subjects you have had long in your mind. . . .
Knowledge and timber should n't be much
used till they are seasoned."
It is the impression of seasoned thought
which comes as we read sentences which em-
body the results of a long experience. "The
Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table" was not
easy to write; no good book is. The writer
who is unusually fluent should take warning
from the instructions which accompany his
fountain-pen : When this pen flows too freely
it is a sign that it is nearly empty and should
In the maturity of his powers, Dr. Holmes
jotted down his thoughts. The thoughts them-
selves had been long in his mind. "The idea
of a man's ' interviewing ' himself is rather odd,
to be sure," says the Poet to the prosaic board-
[ 30 ]
ers. ''But then that is what we are all of us
doing every day. I talk half the time to find
out my own thoughts, as a school-boy turns
his pockets inside out to see what is in them.
... It 's a very queer place, that receptacle a
man fetches his talk out of. The library com-
parison does n't exactly hit it. You stow away
some idea and don't want it, say for ten years.
When it turns up at last it has got so jammed
and crushed out of shape by the other ideas
packed with it, that it is no more like what it
was than a raisin is like a grape on the vine, or
a fig from a drum like one hanging on the tree.
Then, again, some kinds of thoughts breed in
the dark of one's mind like the blind fishes in
the Mammoth Cave. We can't see them, and
they can't see us ; but sooner or later the day-
light gets in, and we find that some cold, fishy
little negative has been spawning all over our
beliefs, and the brood of blind questions it has
given birth to are burrowing round and under
and butting their blunt noses against the pil-
lars of faith we thought the whole world might
lean on. And then, again, some of our old be-
liefs are dying out every year, and others feed
[ 31 ]
on them and grow fat, or get poisoned as the
case may be."
Dr. Holmes perfected the small stereoscope
for hand use. The invention was typical of the
quality of his own mind. The stereoscope is
**an optical instrument for representing in
apparent relief and solidity all natural objects
by uniting into one image two representations
of these objects as seen by each eye separately."
The ordinary prosaic statement of fact pre-
sents a flat surface. The object of thought
does not stand out from its own background.
We look through the eyes of Dr. Holmes and
we have a stereoscopic view. A stereoscope
may not have as great scientific value as a
microscope or a telescope, but it is very inter-
esting for all that. The stereoscopic mind
makes an abstract idea seem real.
It is convenient for purposes of quotation
to ignore the transparent fiction by which the
** Autocrat" of the first series gives way to the
*' Professor," and then to the "Poet." Dr.
Holmes the Professor of Anatomy and Dr.
Holmes the Poet were the same person. The
[ 32 ]
Autocrat might change his title as the years
passed by, but he could not change his identity.
Dr. Holmes, in the preface to "The Pro-
fessor at the Breakfast-Table," disarms criti-
cism by suggesting a falling off in interest.
**The first juice that runs of itself from the
grapes comes from the heart of the fruit, and
tastes of the pulp only; when the grapes are
squeezed in the press the flow betrays the
flavor of the skin. If there is any freshness in
the original idea of the work, if there is any
individuality in the method or style of a new
author, or of an old author on a new track, it
will have lost much of its first effect when re-
Evidently the majority of readers have taken
this view, for the Autocrat is read by many
who have slight acquaintance with the Poet
or the Professor. But though there may have
been a loss in freshness, there was a gain in
Dr. Holmes stood aloof from many of the
"reforms" of his day. Yet he too was "a
soldier in the battle for the liberation of hu-
manity." In "The Professor at the Breakfast-
[ 33 ]
Table" there are keen thrusts against theo-
logical dogmatism and bigotry. No wonder
that the book was for a time in danger of being
placed on the Protestant "Index Expurga-
torius." There was often consternation at the
breakfast-table, and much shaking of heads.
"It was undeniable that on several occasions
the Little Gentleman had expressed himself
with a good deal of freedom on a class of sub-
jects which, according to the divinity-student,
he had no right to form an opinion upon."
And the Professor himself was no better.
Dr. Holmes lived to see the battle for reli-
gious toleration won, at least in the commu-
nity in which he lived, and he says of the once
startling opinions of the Professor, "What
was once an irritant may now act as an ano-
dyne, and the reader may nod over pages
which, when they were first written, would
have worked him into a paroxysm of protest
But it is in "The Poet at the Breakfast-
Table" that we see Dr. Holmes fighting a
battle which is still on. As he was an enemy
of Bigotry, so he was an enemy of Pedantry.
[ 34 ]
Born in the same year with Darwin, he felt
the change which was taking place in the
ideals and methods of education. The old
classical culture was giving way to the new
discipline of science. As a scientific man, he
sympathized with the new methods. But he
perceived that as there was a pedantry of classi-
cal scholarship, so there was developing a scien-
tific pedantry, which was equally hostile to
any generous and joyous intellectual life.
In the preface to his last edition, he says :
*'We have only to look over the lists of the
Faculties and teachers of our Universities to see
the subdivision of labor carried out as never
before. The movement is irresistible ; it brings
with it exactness, exhaustive knowledge, a nar-
row but complete self-satisfaction, with such
accompanying faults as pedantry, triviality,
and the kind of partial blindness which be-
longs to intellectual myopia."
One may go far before he finds anything
more delicious than the conversations between
the Scarabee, who knew only about beetles,
and "the old Master," to whom all the world
was interesting. "I would not give much to
[ 35 ]
hear what the Scarabee says about the old
Master, for he does not pretend to form a
judgment of anything but beetles, but I should
like to hear what the Master has to say about
the Scarabee." What the Master had to say
was: "These specialists are the coral-insects
that build up a reef. By and by it will be an
island, and for aught we know may grow into
a continent. But I don't want to be a coral-
insect myself. ... I am a little afraid that
science is breeding us down too fast into coral-
Here we have stated the problem which the
new education is facing. How may we gain
the results which come from highly special-
ized effort, without losing the breadth and
freedom of a liberal education ? We must have
specialists, but we must recognize the occu-
pational diseases to which they are liable, and
we must find some way by which they may be
saved from them.
The old Master's division of the intellectual
world is worth our careful consideration.
There are '* one-story intellects, two-story in-
tellects, three-story intellects with skylights.
[ 36 ]
All fact-collectors, who have no aim beyond
their facts, are one-story men. Two-story men
compare, reason, generalize, using the labors
of the fact-collectors as well as their own.
Three-story men idealize, imagine, predict;
their best illumination comes from above,
through the skylight."
Dr. Holmes was pleading the same cause
to which Wordsworth was devoted, the union
of Science and Poetry in a new and higher type
of culture. If there is to be fullness of life there
must be the cultivation of
The glorious habit by which sense is made
Subservient still to moral purposes,
Auxiliar to divine. That change shall clothe
The naked spirit, ceasing to deplore
The burthen of existence. Science then
Shall be a precious visitant; and then,
And only then, be worthy of her name;
For then her heart shall kindle; her dull eye.
Dull and inanimate, no more shall hang
Chained to its object in brute slavery;
But taught with patient interest to watch
The processes of things, and serve the cause
Of order and distinctness, not for this
Shall it forget that its most noble use,
Its most illustrious province, must be found
[ 37 ]
In furnishing clear guidance, a support
Not treacherous, to the mind's excursive power.
Amid the clatter of the dishes, this was the
doctrine that was insisted upon at the Boston
boarding-house. Be sure of your fact, define
it well. But, after all, a fact is but the start-
ing-point. It is not the goal. The great thing
is the mind's "excursive power." Dr. Holmes's
excursions were not so long as that of Words-
worth, but they were more varied, and how
many unexpectedly interesting things he saw !
Those who like to go a-thinking will always
be glad that Dr. Holmes was obliging enough
to be his own Bos well.
OLD IRONSIDES »
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout.
And burst the cannon's roar ; —
* This was the popular name by which the frigate Constitution
was known. The poem was first printed in the Boston Daily Adver-
tiser, at the time when it was proposed to break up the old ship as
unfit for service. I subjoin the paragraph which led to the writing of
the poem. It is from the Advertiser of Tuesday, September 14, 1830 : —
" Old Ironsides. — It has been affirmed upon good authority that
the Secretary of the Navy has recommended to the Board of Navy
Commissioners to dispose of the frigate Constitution. Since it has been
understood that such a step was in contemplation we have heard but
one opinion expressed, and that in decided disapprobation of the
measure. Such a national object of interest, so endeared to our national
pride as Old Ironsides is, should never by any act of our government
cease to belong to the Navy, so long as our country is to be found upon
the map of nations. In England it was lately determined by the Ad-
miralty to cut the Victory, a one-hundred gun ship (which it will be
recollected bore the flag of Lord Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar),
down to a seventy-four, but so loud were the lamentations of the people
upon the proposed measure that the intention was abandoned. We
confidently anticipate that the Secretary of the Navy will in like
manner consult the general wish in regard to the Constitution, and
either let her remain in ordinary or rebuild her whenever the public
service may require." — New York Journal of Commerce.
The poem was an impromptu outburst of feeling and was published
the next day but one after reading the above paragraph. — Holmes.
[ 41 ]
THE CAMBRIDGE CHURCHYARD
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.
Her deck, once red with heroes' blood.
Where knelt the vanquished foe.
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread.
Or know the conquered knee ; —
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!
Oh better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep.
And there should be her grave ;
Nail to the mast her holy flag.
Set every threadbare sail.
And give her to the god of storms.
The lightning and the gale!
THE CAMBRIDGE CHURCHYARD
Our ancient church! its lowly tower,
Beneath the loftier spire.
Is shadowed when the sunset hour
Clothes the tall shaft in fire;
It sinks beyond the distant eye
Long ere the glittering vane,
[ 42 ]
THE CAMBRIDGE CHURCHYARD
High wheeling in the western sky,
Has faded o'er the plain.
Like Sentinel and Nun, they keep
Their vigil on the green;
One seems to guard, and one to weep,
The dead that lie between;
And both roll out, so full and near,
Their music's mingling waves,
They shake the grass, whose pennoned spear
Leans on the narrow graves.
The stranger parts the flaunting weeds.
Whose seeds the winds have strown
So thick, beneath the line he reads.
They shade the sculptured stone;
The child unveils his clustered brow.
And ponders for a while
The graven willow's pendent bough.
Or rudest cherub's smile.
But what to them the dirge, the knell ?
These were the mourner's share, —
The sullen clang, whose heavy swell
Throbbed through the beating air;
The rattling cord, the rolling stone.
The shelving sand that slid.
And, far beneath, with hollow tone
Rung on the coffin's lid.
[ 43 ]
THE CAMBRIDGE CHURCHYARD
The slumberer's mound grows fresh and green,
Then slowly disappears ;
The mosses creep, the gray stones lean.
Earth hides his date and years;
But, long before the once-loved name
Is sunk or worn away,
No lip the silent dust may claim.
That pressed the breathing clay.
Go where the ancient pathway guides,
See where our sires laid down
Their smiling babes, their cherished brides.
The patriarchs of the town;
Hast thou a tear for buried love ?
A sigh for transient power?
All that a century left above.
Go, read it in an hour!
The Indian's shaft, the Briton's ball.
The sabre's thirsting edge.
The hot shell, shattering in its fall,
The bayonet's rending wedge, —
Here scattered death; yet, seek the spot,
No trace thine eye can see.
No altar, — and they need it not
Who leave their children free!
Look where the turbid rain-drops stand
In many a chiselled square;
The knightly crest, the shield, the brand
Of honored names were there ; —
[ 44 ]
THE CAMBRIDGE CHURCHYARD
Alas ! for every tear is dried
Those blazoned tablets knew.
Save when the icy marble's side
Drips with the evening dew.
Or gaze upon yon pillared stone,
The empty urn of pride;
There stand the Goblet and the Sun/ —
What need of more beside?
Where lives the memory of the dead,
Who made their tomb a toy?
Whose ashes press that nameless bed?
Go, ask the village boy!
Lean o'er the slender western wall,
Ye ever-roaming girls;
The breath that bids the blossom fall
May lift your floating curls.
To sweep the simple lines that tell
An exile's date and doom;
And sigh, for where his daughters dwell.
They wreathe the stranger's tomb.
And one amid these shades was born,
Beneath this turf who lies.
Once beaming as the summer's morn.
That closed her gentle eyes ;
* The Goblet and the Sun (Vas-Sol), sculptured on a freestone slab
supported by five pillars, are the only designation of the family tomb
of the Vassalls. — Holmes.
[ 45 ]
THE CAMBRIDGE CHURCHYARD
If sinless angels love as we.
Who stood thy grave beside,
Three seraph welcomes waited thee.
The daughter, sister, bride!
I wandered to thy buried mound
When earth was hid below
The level of the glaring ground.
Choked to its gates with snow.
And when with summer's flowery waves
The lake of verdure rolled.
As if a Sultan's white-robed slaves
Had scattered pearls and gold.
Nay, the soft pinions of the air.
That lift this trembling tone.
Its breath of love may almost bear
To kiss thy funeral stone;
And, now thy smiles have passed away.
For all the joy they gave.
May sweetest dews and warmest ray
Lie on thine early grave !
When damps beneath and storms above
Have bowed these fragile towers.
Still o'er the graves yon locust grove
Shall swing its Orient flowers;
And I would ask no mouldering bust,
If e'er this humble line.
Which breathed a sigh o'er others' dust.
Might call a tear on mine.
[ 46 ]
THE LAST LEAF
THE LAST LEAF^
I SAW him once before,
As he passed by the door,
The pavement stones resound.
As he totters o'er the ground
With his cane.
They say that in his prime,
Ere the pruning-knife of Time
Cut him down.
Not a better man was found
By the Crier on his round
Through the town.
But now he walks the streets,
And he looks at all he meets
Sad and wan,
* This poem was suggested by the appearance in one of our streets
of a venerable relic of the Revolution, said to be one of the party who
threw the tea overboard in Boston Harbor. He was a fine monumental
specimen in his cocked hat and knee breeches, with his buckled shoes
and his sturdy cane. The smile with which I, as a young man, greeted
him, meant no disrespect to an honored fellow-citizen whose costume
was out of date, but whose patriotism never changed with years. I
do not recall any earlier example of this form of verse, which was
commended by the fastidious Edgar Allan Poe, who made a copy
of the whole poem which I have in his own handwriting. Good
Abraham Lincoln had a great liking for the poem, and repeated
it from memory to Governor Andrew, as the governor himself told
me. — Holmes.
[ 47 ]
THE LAST LEAF
And he shakes his feeble head,
That it seems as if he said,
" They are gone."
The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb.
My grandmamma has said —
Poor old lady, she is dead
Long ago —
That he had a Roman nose.
And his cheek was like a rose
In the snow.
But now his nose is thin.
And it rests upon his chin
Like a staff,
And a crook is in his back.
And a melancholy crack
In his laugh.
I know it is a sin
For me to sit and grin
At him here;
But the old three-cornered hat.
And the breeches, and all that.
Are so queer!
[ 48 ]
THE HEIGHT OF THE RIDICULOUS
And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
In the spring,
Let them smile, as I do now.
At the old forsaken bough
Where I cling.
THE HEIGHT OF THE RIDICULOUS
I WROTE some lines once on a time
In wondrous merry mood.
And thought, as usual, men would say
They were exceeding good.
They were so queer, so very queer,
I laughed as I would die;
Albeit, in the general way,
A sober man am I.
I called my servant, and he came;
How kind it was of him
To mind a slender man like me.
He of the mighty limb.
"These to the printer," I exclaimed,
And, in my humorous way,
I added, (as a trifling jest,)
"There'll be the devil to pay."
[ 49 ]
THE DEACON'S MASTERPIECE
He took the paper, and I watched, '
And saw him peep within;
At the first line he read, his face
Was all upon the grin.
He read the next; the grin grew broad.
And shot from ear to ear; |
He read the third ; a chuckling noise ^
I now began to hear.
The fourth; he broke into a roar;
The fifth; his waistband split;
The sixth; he burst five buttons off.
And tumbled in a fit.
Ten days and nights, with sleepless eye,
I watched that wretched man.
And since, I never dare to write
As funny as I can.
THE DEACON'S MASTERPIECE
OR, THE WONDERFUL " ONE-HOSS SHAY "
A LOGICAL STORY
Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay.
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day.
And then, of a sudden, it — ah, but stay,
[ 50 ]
THE DEACON'S MASTERPIECE
I '11 tell you what happened without delay.
Scaring the parson into fits.
Frightening people out of their wits, —
Have you ever heard of that, I say ?
Seventeen hundred and fifty-five.
Georgius Secundus was then alive, —
Snuffy old drone from the German hive.
That was the year when Lisbon-town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down,
And Braddock's army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on the terrible Earthquake-day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss shay.
Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,
There is always somewhere a weakest spot, —
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill.
In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace, — lurking still.
Find it somewhere you must and will, —
Above or below, or within or without, —
And that's the reason, beyond a doubt.
That a chaise breaks down, but does n't wear out.
But the Deacon swore (as Deacons do,
With an "I dew vum," or an "I tell yeou")
He would build one shay to beat the taown
'N' the keounty 'n' all the kentry raoun' ;
It should be so built that it could tpl break daown
[ 51 ]
THE DEACON'S MASTERPIECE
" Fur," said the Deacon, " 't 's mighty plain
Thut the weakes' place mus' stan' the strain;
'N' the way t' fix it, uz I maintain,
Is only jest
T' make that place uz strong uz the rest."
So the Deacon inquired of the village folk
Where he could find the strongest oak.
That could n't be split nor bent nor broke, —
That was for spokes and floor and sills ;
He sent for lancewood to make the thills ;
The crossbars were ash, from the straightest trees,
The panels of white- wood, that cuts like cheese.
But lasts like iron for things like these;
The hubs of logs from the " Settler's ellum," —
Last of its timber, — they could n't sell 'em,
Never an axe had seen their chips.
And the wedges flew from between their lips.
Their blunt ends frizzled like celery-tips;
Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw.
Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too.
Steel f the finest, bright and blue;
Thoroughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;
Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide
Found in the pit when the tanner died.
That was the way he "put her through."
"There!" said the Deacon, "naow she'll dew!"
Do! I tell you, I rather guess
She was a wonder, and nothing less !
[ 52 ]
THE DEACON'S MASTERPIECE
Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,
Deacon and deaconess dropped away,
Children and grandchildren — where were they ?
But there stood the stout old one-hoss shay
As fresh as on Lisbon-earthquake-day !
Eighteen hundred ; — it came and found
The Deacon's masterpiece strong and sound.
Eighteen hundred increased by ten ; —
Hahnsum kerridge" they called it then.
Eighteen hundred and twenty came ; —
Running as usual; much the same.
Thirty and forty at last arrive,
And then come fifty, and fifty-five.
Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there's nothing that keeps its youth.
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.
(This is a moral that runs at large;
Take it. — You 're welcome. — No extra charge.)
First of November, — the Earthquake-day, —
There are traces of age in the one-hoss shay,
A general flavor of mild decay.
But nothing local, as one may say.
There could n't be, — for the Deacon's art
Had made it so like in every part
That there was n't a chance for one to start.
[ 53 ] .
THE DEACON'S MASTERPIECE
For the wheels were just as strong as the thills,
And the floor was just as strong as the sills.
And the panels just as strong as the floor.
And the whipple-tree neither less nor more.
And the back crossbar as strong as the fore,
And spring and axle and hub encore.
And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt
In another hour it will be worn out !
First of November, Tifty-five!
This morning the parson takes a drive.
Now, small boys, get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful one-hoss shay.
Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.
Huddup!" said the parson. — OfiF went they.
The Parson was working his Sunday's text, —
Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed
At what the — Moses — was coming next.
All at once the horse stood still.
Close by the meet'n'-house on the hill.
First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill, —
And the parson was sitting upon a rock.
At half-past nine by the meet'n'-house clock, -
Just the hour of the Earthquake shock !
What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around ?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound.
As if it had been to the mill and ground !
You see, of course, if you 're not a dunce,
[ 54 ]
BILL AND JOE
How it went to pieces all at once, —
All at once, and nothing first, —
Just as bubbles do when they burst.
End of the wonderful one-hoss shay.
Logic is logic. That 's all I say.
BILL AND JOE
Come, dear old comrade, you and I
Will steal an hour from days gone by,
The shining days when life was new.
And all was bright with morning dew.
The lusty days of long ago,
When you were Bill and I was Joe.
Your name may flaunt a titled trail
Proud as a cockerel's rainbow tail.
And mine as brief appendix wear
As Tam O'Shanter's luckless mare;
To-day, old friend, remember still
That I am Joe and you are Bill.
You Ve won the great world's envied prize.
And grand you look in people's eyes.
With HON. and L L. D.
In big brave letters, fair to see, —
Your fist, old fellow ! off they go ! —
How are you, Bill? How are you, Joe?
[ 55 ]
BILL AND JOE
You 've worn the judge's ermined robe ;
You 've taught your name to half the globe ;
You 've sung mankind a deathless strain ;
You 've made the dead past live again :
The world may call you what it will,
But you and I are Joe and Bill.
The chaflSng young folks stare and say,
' See those old buffers, bent and gray, —
They talk like fellows in their teens !
Mad, poor old boys! That's what it means,"
And shake their heads; they little know
The throbbing hearts of Bill and Joe ! —
How Bill forgets his hour of pride,
While Joe sits smiling at his side;
How Joe, in spite of time's disguise.
Finds the old schoolmate in his eyes, —
Those calm, stern eyes that melt and fill
As Joe looks fondly up at Bill.
Ah, pensive scholar, what is fame?
A fitful tongue of leaping flame;
A giddy whirlwind's fickle gust.
That lifts a pinch of mortal dust;
A few swift years, and who can show
Which dust was Bill and which was Joe?
The weary idol takes his stand.
Holds out his bruised and aching hand,
[ 56 ]
WHAT WE ALL THINK
While gaping thousands come and go, —
How vain it seems, this empty show !
Till all at once his pulses thrill ; —
'Tis poor old Joe's "God bless you. Bill!*'
And shall we breathe in happier spheres
The names that pleased our mortal ears;
In some sweet lull of harp and song
For earth-born spirits none too long,
Just whispering of the world below.
Where this was Bill and that was Joe?
No matter; while our home is here
No sounding name is half so dear;
When fades at length our lingering day.
Who cares what pompous tombstones say ?
Read on the hearts that love us still.
Hie jacet Joe. Hie jacet Bill.
WHAT WE ALL THINK
That age was older once than now,
In spite of locks untimely shed.
Or silvered on the youthful brow;
That babes make love and children wed.
That sunshine had a heavenly glow.
Which faded with those " good old days "
When winters came with deeper snow.
And autumns with a softer haze.
[ 57 ]
WHAT WE ALL THINK
That — mother, sister, wife, or child — •
The " best of women " each has known. |
Were school-boys ever half so wild ? |
How young the grandpapas have grown !
That hut for this our souls were free,
And hut for that our lives were blest;
That in some season yet to be
Our cares will leave us time to rest.
Whene'er we groan with ache or pain, —
Some common ailment of the race, —
Though doctors think the matter plain, —
That ours is " a peculiar case."
That when like babes with fingers burned
We count one bitter maxim more,
Our lesson all the world has learned.
And men are wiser than before.
That when we sob o*er fancied woes,
The angels hovering overhead
Count every pitying drop that flows,
And love us for the tears we shed.
That when we stand with tearless eye
And turn the beggar from our door.
They still approve us when we sigh,
"Ah, had I but one thousand more/'
I 58 ]
ROBINSON OF LEYDEN
Though temples crowd the crumbled brink
O'erhanging truth's eternal flow,
Their tablets bold with what we think.
Their echoes dumb to what we know;
That one unquestioned text we read,
All doubt beyond, all fear above.
Nor crackling pile nor cursing creed
Can burn or blot it : God is Love !
ROBINSON OF LEYDEN
He sleeps not here; in hope and prayer
His wandering flock had gone before,
But he, the shepherd, might not share
Their sorrows on the wintry shore.
Before the Speedwell's anchor swung.
Ere yet the Mayflower's sail was spread.
While round his feet the Pilgrims clung,
The pastor spake, and thus he said : —
"Men, brethren, sisters, children dear!
God calls you hence from over sea;
Ye may not build by Haerlem Meer,
Nor yet along the Zuyder-Zee.
** Ye go to bear the saving word
To tribes unnamed and shores untrod;
[ 59 ]
ROBINSON OF LEYDEN
Heed well the lessons ye have heard
From those old teachers taught of God.
"Yet think not unto them was lent
All light for all the coming days,
And Heaven's eternal wisdom spent
In making straight the ancient ways;
"The living fountain overflows
For every flock, for every lamb.
Nor heeds, though angry creeds oppose
With Luther's dike or Calvin's dam."
He spake; with lingering, long embrace.
With tears of love and partings fond.
They floated down the creeping Maas,
Along the isle of Ysselmond.
They passed the frowning towers of Briel,
The "Hook of Holland's" shelf of sand.
And grated soon with lifting keel
The sullen shores of Fatherland.
No home for these ! — too well they knew
The mitred king behind the throne ; —
The sails were set, the pennons flew,
And westward ho! for worlds unknown.
And these were they who gave us birth,
The Pilgrims of the sunset wave,
[ 60 ]
A SUN-DAY HYMN
Who won for us this virgin earth,
And freedom with the soil they gave.
The pastor slumbers by the Rhine, —
In alien earth the exiles lie, —
Their nameless graves our holiest shrine.
His words our noblest battle-cry!
Still cry them, and the world shall hear.
Ye dwellers by the storm-swept sea!
Ye have not built by Haerlem Meer,
Nor on the land-locked Zuyder-Zee!
A SUN-DAY HYMN
Lord of all being ! throned afar,
Thy glory flames from sun and star;
Centre and soul of every sphere.
Yet to each loving heart how near!
Sun of our life, thy quickening ray
Sheds on our path the glow of day;
Star of our hope, thy softened light
Cheers the long watches of the night.
Our midnight is thy smile withdrawn;
Our noontide is thy gracious dawn ;
Our rainbow arch thy mercy's sign;
All, save the clouds of sin, are thine!
[ 61 ]
THE CROOKED FOOTPATH
Lord of all life, below, above,
Whose light is truth, whose warmth is love.
Before thy ever-blazing throne
We ask no lustre of our own.
Grant us thy truth to make us free,
And kindling hearts that burn for thee,
Till all thy living altars claim
One holy light, one heavenly flame !
THE CROOKED FOOTPATH
Ah, here it is ! the sliding rail
That marks the old remembered spot,
The gap that struck our school-boy trail,
The crooked path across the lot.
It left the road by school and church,
A pencilled shadow, nothing more.
That parted from the silver-birch
And ended at the farm-house door.
No line or compass traced its plan;
With frequent bends to left or right,
In aimless, wayward curves it ran.
But always kept the door in sight.
The gabled porch, with woodbine green.
The broken millstone at the sill, —
[ 62 ]
THE CROOKED FOOTPATH
Though many a rood might stretch between,
The truant child could see them still.
No rocks across the pathway lie, —
No fallen trunk is o'er it thrown, —
And yet it winds, we know not why.
And turns as if for tree or stone.
Perhaps some lover trod the way
With shaking knees and leaping heart, -
And so it often runs astray
With sinuous sweep or sudden start.
Or one, perchance, with clouded brain
From some unholy banquet reeled, —
And since, our devious steps maintain
His track across the trodden field.
Nay, deem not thus, — no earthborn will
Could ever trace a faultless line;
Our truest steps are human still, —
To walk unswerving were divine !
Truants from love, we dream of wrath; —
Oh, rather let us trust the more !
Through all the wanderings of the path,
We still can see our Father's door !
[ 63 ]
THE CHAMBERED NAUTILUS
THE CHAMBERED NAUTILUS
This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign.
Sails the unshadowed main, —
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings.
And coral reefs lie bare.
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl ;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl !
And every chambered cell.
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell.
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell.
Before thee lies revealed, —
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil ;
Still, as the spiral grew.
He left the past year's dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through.
Built up its idle door.
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee.
Child of the wandering sea,
[ 64 ]
THE CHAMBERED NAUTILUS
Cast from her lap, forlorn !
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathed horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep eaves of thought I hear a voice that
sings : —
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last.
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea !
THREE HUNDRED COPIES PRINTED
AT THE RIVERSIDE PRESS, CAM-
BRIDGE, MASS., IN AUGUST, 1909.
• ♦ . -\